Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.” So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “You have said so,” Jesus replied.
Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” But they insisted, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.” On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.
When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort. He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became friends – before this they had been enemies.
Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.”
But the whole crowd shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.) Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.” But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand.He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.
A longer reading than normal today, but this account really needs to be considered as a whole in order to appreciate fully the depth of human corruption it reveals.
The religious leaders had agreed on a charge of blasphemy against Jesus. But there is no mention of it in the accusations they brought before Pilate. The reason is simple: a charge of blasphemy would not secure the death penalty from the political authorities. It would have been dismissed as an internal matter for the priests and scribes to resolve. It was not a capital offence. So instead they accused Jesus of leading a subversive political movement which constituted a clear and present danger to Caesar himself.
As lies go, this was a corker! Pilate was completely unimpressed and Herod made a mockery out of the whole thing. Pilate and Herod both agreed: the charges were obviously ridiculous. Indeed their agreement over Jesus actually brought these old enemies back together again.
But the religious leaders refused to back down. The irony is sickening. Here were men charged with setting the moral and spiritual tone of the nation, supposed champions of truth and the protection of the innocent, hounding Jesus to his death. They accused him of political subversion, when they were the ones resisting the political authorities, seeking to overturn the judicial decision handed down.
We can’t miss Luke’s emphasis on the noise they made! They raised their voices, they shouted in unison, they manipulated the crowds into chanting for the release of a true insurrectionist and a murderer. Repeatedly Pilate pronounced their charge against Jesus to be without foundation. But the shouting continued as they insisted on having their corrupt way.
Pilate caved. Shouting triumphed over truth – as it often does. The religious leaders had succeeded in creating a groundswell of public opinion based on lies and corruption. The political authorities ended up acting out of political expediency rather than truth to appease those who shouted loudest.
Through it all the true King stood in quiet and beautiful contrast. He also had raised his voice. But away from the crowds and in prayer, on his knees, seeking not his own will but the will of his Father. And he would do that will until the end. Surely this is the King who commands our own hearts?